“No matter how enamored a commander is with his plans he must from time to time consider the enemy.” W. Churchill

Time to talk about one of my favorite subjects again…stress and what makes good training. My passion the past couple of years has been to learn as much as I can about real world violence and the stress responses it produces. If you study these two things in depth you’ll really start to notice that 90% of what’s taught for self defense is (there’s no nice way to put this) bullshit.

Under an attack on our life (and there isn’t anything that produces more stress) we will not have the same brain that we have now. SGT Rory Miller in his must read books on the subject Mediations of Violence and Facing Violence calls it walking through the looking glass. We will not be able to think, to come up with a plan, to strategize, etc. The first thing we will do is freeze. We will not want to believe that what is happening is happening. We will want to stand there and ask “why”. Our brains will work for us and scan our entire lives to see if we were ever in this danger before and how we got out of it. Our brains will scan our entire lives to see if we ever planned for this event and access that plan. Our brains will screw us over if we have no plan…even if we are cowering with our head between our legs our brain will say “I haven’t died doing this yet so I will keep doing it”. All the BS that was taught to us as self defense will be exposed as BS…now that we need it and it’s too late.

We absolutely must train with exhaustion and stress. Practicing handgun defenses, for example, with our partner standing there like a statue pointing a gun at us does us no good when in the real world the gunman is waving the handgun, hitting us with it, smacking us, kicking us, cussing and yelling. When we train handgun disarms we suit up and have our partner do all of these things. Then when it happens in the real world we have that “been there, done that” feeling and the defense will come out of us. Examples of training that doesn’t consider the effects of stress…

The first one is from law enforcement training. Years ago they were discovering that officers who died in shoot outs had their spent brass in their pockets. This made no sense at first. They then realized that every time the officers shot on the range they always took the spent shells out of their revolvers, put the brass in their pockets and then reloaded. Why? Because the range masters told them to not dare drop their brass on his nice clean floors, he didn’t want to have to pick it all up! Officers in a life or death fight were taking the extra time to put the brass in their hands, then to their pockets and then reloading. An even more horrifying story is of an officer who died in a shootout in a bar and with his last breaths crawled to the bathroom to put his spent brass into a toilet bowl. WTF? You guessed it, at his departments firing range the officers always unloaded their empties and placed them in a bucket of solvent that was by them on the range. Again rules to keep a clean range.

The second one is from law enforcement as well. This is still going on but we are trying to change this with the way we train officers. We have seen on dash cams an attacker trying to knife an officer and the officer is blasting away at the attacker with his handgun…with both hands on the gun. It would make a lot of sense to fire one handed and block with the other but the officer has shot thousands of rounds at the range with his/her two handed grip and has never practiced firing one handed. He isn’t going to change and come up with a better plan under stress.

True story about a police officer in California. He practiced handgun takeaways with his partner a lot. He always handed the gun right back to his partner to practice again. Sure enough, he was in a bank while off duty and had a gun put in his face. He took it away perfectly, handed the gun back to the criminal, got shot and then took the gun away a second time. We want to shake our head at such a story but the truth is that our training will be our plan and come out of us under stress…exactly how we practiced it.

When BJJ was getting popular a lot of police departments started changing their training to ground based stuff. It looks cool and all but the ground is where you don’t want to be. When he has a blade or a friend (two things most scum bags have) the ground is dangerous. Get them handled, cuffed and get the heck up. It is interesting that BJJ teaches to pin an opponent face up. This was to give the person being pinned a better chance of escaping so that the competitions were more exciting. Law enforcement should be pinning the bad guy face down. Don’t let the real world get in the way of cool training I guess is the thought.

I recently talked to a guard at a prison who was telling me that when they train for a group of them to enter a cell and take down a trouble maker that they train on a person wearing a red man suit that is easy to grab hold of but every time they have to do it in real life the prisoner is naked and usually wets himself down and soaps up to make it hard to grab him. The logical question for me was “Why in the world aren’t you training that way? Spray that darned red man suit with cooking spray or smear baby oil on it.” People get caught in a training idea and can’t see the forest for the trees.

I spent hundreds of hours when I was a martial arts student doing “one step sparring”. This was a drill where my partner would step back with his right foot into a deep front stance, do a lower block and yell. When I would yell he would step forward with his right foot into a front stance and punch with his right hand, leaving it out for me to do one of my 50 “defenses” for the attack. We had all kinds of cool defenses. Why it never dawned on anyone to question that 1) a front stance was designed for stability on board of a ship, we weren’t on a friggin ship, 2) not many people step right and punch right, this is an awkward attack, 3) the attack didn’t come until we yelled…we were in charge of when the attack started…that’s just stupid and 4) there aren’t too many idiots in the world that will punch and then just leave their arm outstretched. Really, hundreds of hours. Wow. How about putting gloves on the attacker and let him go crazy on us…combos, trying to really smack us, moving, etc. Ya think we may have been a bit more ready for an attack in the real world? Again, don’t let the real world mess with your awesome training.

…and no, I don’t think I’m all that. Until a few years ago I taught a realy cool Knife Defense Seminar. We taught our way cool knife defenses for an attack with the knife being stabbed straight in, the one where the knife comes from down to up and last but not least, the overhead “ice pick” stab. There ya go, you are safe now. After looking at actual knife attacks, reading about what kept people alive who were attacked and talking to prison guards and cops who see this stuff a lot I realized that I should probably teach for the real world. We now teach to run. This is the only guaranteed “you won’t get cut” defense that we have! The best defense when you can’t run? Don’t worry about a defense at all, just punch the idiot as hard as you can in the head. Oh, we still teach our cool defenses but we spend most of our time on the shank and the hockey punch. The way people are attacked in the real world with a knife isn’t by seeing it from five feet away. We will likely be stabbed by a sneak attack from behind two or three times before we even know we are being attacked. We have to have a defense for this! The hockey punch is when we have a wrist grabbed and then the attacker rapidly knives us over and under our arm. Our traditional Krav knife defenses do nothing for these. Oh yeah, whenever there is a knife involved there is guaranteed to be a lot of blood. No reason to train with a dry knife, we take KY jelly and lube everyone up from elbow to finger tips. Now, we are giving them a fighting chance!!

Again instructors…when people come to you to learn self defense they are putting their lives in your hands. Don’t teach crap from a system because it’s your system. When they need what you have taught them it had better be the most scientific, battle tested and true to life stuff that you could find to teach!! BE SAFE!


1 Comment

  1. Great blog…

    A drill I had my level 3 students do.. they were fighting each other, I put on the red man helmet and started shanking one of them with a knife. They had to hit me, and hit me hard/multiple times. Let me tell you, even with the red man helmet on, it hurt bad. A few times, I even turned to run and I had the knife!!

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